Kicking back at the rising costs in youth soccer

Sports are a major part in the lives of kids across the country. However, for some, the pathway to the pros isn’t as accessible for some as it is for others, especially in soccer.

World Cup hysteria has been in full swing this summer, but the United States wasn’t invited to the party. The men’s national team failed to qualify for the major tournament for the first time since 1986, and that disappointment has led to many soccer fans in America calling for change, especially at the youth level.

"For our resources, our size, and our development model, it’s not working," said SKY Soccer Club Director of Operations and Kentucky Youth Soccer Board President Bob Drake. "For [the U.S. Men’s National Team] not to qualify is not an option."

"It goes back to our youth system," former U.S. Women’s National Team goalkeeper Hope Solo added. "It’s because we are alienating so much talent in the youth system."

That alienation of talent boils down to the pay-to-play system for competitive travel soccer teams in America, which tends to be a more complicated cost breakdown than people realize.

"From traveling, your actual hotel stays, the tournament entry fee, the coaching-the paid coaches, and so forth significantly raises the price for kids to play at a high level," Drake said.

"These kids are passionate about the game," said Solo. "They’re filled with great skill, yet they’re being told if you don’t have the money, you can’t represent your country."

These barriers of entry, as Drake called them, prevent talented kids from being able to develop at the highest level. Addressing this issue has become one of the hottest topics of discussion at soccer clubs all over the country, including the club Drake is in charge of, SKY Soccer Club, right here in Bowling Green. 

"That’s one of the things we’re focused on here at this club is getting our kids, regardless of their ability to pay, how can they still be seen to get to the next level," he said. 

Many soccer junkies question why the system used by clubs in Europe can’t be replicated here in the U.S.A? The answer isn’t as simple as it may seem, according to Drake.

"The pay-to-play system, a lot of people will compare it to the European model where at a lot of clubs kids don’t pay that," he said. "The biggest difference there from here is clubs own a right to a player in Europe. When they find a player when they’re fourteen or fifteen, and that player develops and makes it to the [English} Premier League, They sign these million dollar contracts, and that money comes back to the original club. In the United States you cannot do that. To ask clubs here to follow that model is not realistic."

With the United States, Canada, and Mexico set to jointly host the 2026 World Cup in eight years, the pressure is on the U.S. Soccer Federation and local clubs just like SKY to find a solution to this issue, one that ideally leads to greater player development and success at the national team level.

"Those expenses aren’t going away, but we can create pathways such as [Olympic Development Program] to where these kids can be identified," Drake said. "Then find their pathway, whether it’s to play in college, or whether it’s to play in a [Major League Soccer] team, or team U.S.A. in the future."